Campaigns may want to rethink their comms strategies going into 2024 as some practitioners could be limiting the reach of their clients’ messaging by “icing” out news outlets or reporters they don’t agree with.
As an example, Brian Walsh, a longtime GOP comms strategist, pointed to Ron DeSantis’ presidential, which started the Florida governor’s run for the White House in a conservative media bubble — a carryover from the comms strategy of the Republican’s last gubernatorial run.
Speaking at a panel hosted by George Washington University’s School of Media and Public Affairs in partnership with C&E on Nov. 14, Walsh noted that something like ABC’s World News Tonight can capture close to 8 million viewers compared with a conservative news program like Hannity that typically gets around 2.5 million viewers.
“I see this trend sometimes, particularly on the Republican side — I don’t think it’s a good thing — where some of them view reporters as the enemy or they’re only going to talk to Fox News,” said Walsh, now a partner at Plus Communications
“[But] if you’re not talking to ABC, you’re missing out on a huge swath of voters,” he continued. “When you’re trying to run a national campaign, you can’t ice out some of the biggest news outlets in the country. You have to have a relationship.”
Expanding on the topic of relationship building, Walsh, who was joined on the panel by Democratic comms practitioner Rodericka Applewhaite, added that he’s been dismayed seeing recently how combative some flaks are with reporters online.
“I see flaks on social media sometimes going after reporters who are covering them. And I’m like, ‘Well, how are you going to have a good working relationship with this person if you’re attacking them to thousands of people online?’” he asked. “I’d like to counsel younger press secretaries to just say, ‘look, this isn’t personal.’
“It should never get into these personal attacks that you’re seeing increasingly because you have to work with them at the end of the day. And if you’re going after them publicly you’re not going to be able to do your job effectively for your boss.”
Applewhaite, who was part of Pete Buttigieg’s White House run in 2020, believes that flaks need to take the opposite approach to build bridges with the journalists covering the campaign.
“It’s a lot easier to convince people with sugar,” said Applewhaite, now a director at SKDK.
“You never know who you will work with and who they will become next cycle or in the next five years,” she noted. “It really benefits you to just be a nice person.”
That sort of tone also helps a campaign’s pitches land more effectively. In fact, Applewhaite noted that having a good relationship with reporters also gives her credibility to send novel pitches.
“I’ve been able to land things by saying, ‘Look, a lot of people are tweeting about it.’ When I called them two days ago … they wouldn’t run it as an actual story,” she said. “You can kind of reverse engineer pitches that way.”
Another tactic that’s critical in an era with so much noise and so many channels to wade through: maintaining “constant communication” with reporters.
“Calling them when you don’t specifically have something to pitch is really helpful,” she said. “No reporter wants to feel like they’re an oppo ATM machine.”